The Ultimate In Birding Tours

South America (and its islands)

CHILE – The Ultimate itinerary for endemics and other specialities, seabirds and Pumas

Monday 18th November – Monday 2nd December 2024

Leader: Mark Pearman

15 Days Group Size Limit 7
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension

Monday 2nd December – Saturday 7th December 2024

6 Days Group Size Limit 7
Monday 3rd November – Monday 17th November 2025

Leader: Mark Pearman

15 Days Group Size Limit 7
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension

Monday 17th November – Saturday 22nd November 2025

6 Days Group Size Limit 7


Birdquest’s Chile birding tours are classics among South American birding tours. Our Chile birding tour is the ultimate tour to the country, being the most comprehensive available, and records more Chilean and other specialities than any other tour. Our itinerary spans the entire length of this scenically spectacular country and features the Atacama Desert, the Altiplano, the High Andes, the temperate forests and the wild subantarctic landscapes of Patagonia and Tierra del Fuego. Unusual features of the Birdquest tour include the little known Chestnut-throated Huet-huet and two very different pelagics, including one off Valparaiso/Quintero and another off Iquique for more northerly specialities. There is even an option to visit the remote, rarely-visited Juan Fernandéz islands for some additional specialities.

Chile offers really wonderful birding. It does not have a huge avifauna, but, unlike the case in some countries, its avifauna is of very high ‘quality’ and includes a long series of ‘signature’ birds that are high on the want-list of many birders, including a considerable number of endemics and near-endemic specialities. But what really stands out most, what makes Chile unique? The fact is that Chile is veritably the ‘Land of the Mega-Tapaculos’! Here, in the great Valdivian temperate rainforest, saplings quake as bantam-sized Black-throated and Chestnut-throated Huet Huets bound up from the ground to check for rivals or enemies and their loud, hooting cries carry far through the beautiful, mossy, fern-bedecked forests. And the huet huets are not the end of it, for there are also big, bold Chacao and White-throated Tapaculos, and Moustached Turcas, to enjoy, as well as several of those little, mouse-like critters we all think of as more typical of the tapaculo family.

Chile is surely unique amongst the countries of the world! Some 2700 miles (4300km) long, yet never more than 220 miles (350km) wide, this remarkable land snakes southwards down the spine of South America. Dominated throughout by the mighty Andes, Chile is home to many of the highest mountains in South America: a land of endless icy peaks that stand sentinel over vast glaciers and icefields. Chile is also a land of breathtaking variety, with many other habitats such as the Atacama desert (punctuated by strip-shaped oases along the rivers debouching from the Andes), puna grasslands and Patagonian steppes, primaeval Araucaria and Nothofagus beech forests, isolated volcanoes of almost perfect symmetry that send out plumes of white steam into the blue heavens, and, of course, the long, deeply indented coastline with its surf-swept headlands battered by the cold waters of the Humboldt Current.

Chilean scenery is acknowledged to be amongst the finest in the world and indeed, once one has experienced its awesome magnificence, it is hard to imagine that it could be surpassed. Throughout the length of the country are some of South America’s most beautiful and well managed national parks protecting a diversity of habitats and wildlife. We shall visit several of these during the course of our stay as we seek out the many exciting endemics and restricted-range specialities, including numerous birds belonging to monotypic genera, an outstanding selection of seabirds, and puna, desert and Nothofagus forest specialities, in this fascinating part of our world.

Our Chile birding tour is the most comprehensive Chile birding tour available, producing more specialities than any other tour to this marvellous country.

Not only is Chile a wonderful place for experiencing nature but also a modern, well-developed country which makes exploring a pleasure. From the smallest town to the capital Santiago, everything is clean, safe and attractive, and well connected by good roads and a fine internal airline network, and this is not even to mention the good food and wine! This modernization has not resulted in any loss of character, however, as we shall find out when we encounter Chile’s bustling ports, small fishing villages and atmospheric Andean towns and villages.

Our Chile birding tour starts at the city of Arica in the northern region of this long sliver of a country. From here, we will first visit the port of Iquique, where a pelagic should turn up Buller’s Albatross, Peruvian Diving Petrel and both Elliot’s and Markham’s Storm-Petrels, with a real possibility of rarer species such as Wedge-rumped and Hornby’s Storm-Petrels, Blue-footed Booby or Swallow-tailed Gull. Inland, we should find the restricted-range Tamarugo Conebill.

After travelling back to Arica, close to the Peruvian border, we will be birding in the Atacama desert and in the oasis-like valleys of the Lluta and Azapa Rivers. Specialities of the area include Peruvian Thick-knee, Oasis Hummingbird, Peruvian Sheartail, the tiny, endangered endemic Chilean Woodstar, Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and Slender-billed Finch.

From here we climb into the Andes until we reach the shrubby Putre area and ultimately the bird-rich puna grasslands and lakes of Lauca National Park, where the snow-capped Payachatas volcanoes form an awesome backdrop to our birding. Here we will concentrate on such major specialities as Puna Tinamou, the fantastic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover, Greyish Miner, White-throated Earthcreeper, Dark-winged and Canyon Canasteros, and White-throated Sierra Finch, as well as numerous other High Andean specialities including Ornate Tinamou, ‘Puna’ Rhea, Andean and Puna Flamingoes, Giant Coot, Andean Avocet and Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, to mention but a few of the spectacular birds of this fantastic area.

After returning south to Santiago, we will head first for the nearby Pacific coast where we will see spectacular concentrations of seabirds, including several Humboldt Current endemics. Great birds here include Humboldt Penguin, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Guanay and Red-legged Cormorants, Salvin’s Albatross, Westland Petrel, Inca Tern and perhaps Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) Petrel. Coastal wetlands hold Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Red Shoveler, Southern Wigeon, Red-gartered and Red-fronted Coots, and, with luck, the parasitic Black-headed Duck and the restricted-range Ticking Doradito, while the rocky coastline is home to the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes.

Before returning to the Santiago region, we visit the coastal mountain range where we will encounter a series of Chilean land bird specialities, including such marvellously-named endemics as Crag Chilia and Moustached Turca, as well as Dusky-tailed Canastero and Dusky and White-throated Tapaculos. Restricted-range species include Chilean Pigeon, Chilean Flicker, Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Thrush, Chilean Mockingbird, Chilean Swallow and Black-chinned Siskin.

Next, we shall explore the rugged central Andes of Chile, home to Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-sided Hillstar, Rufous-banded and Creamy-rumped Miners, Austral Negrito, White-browed, Ochre-naped and Black-fronted Ground Tyrants, Grey-hooded Sierra-Finch, Greater Yellow-Finch and Yellow-rumped Siskin. We will also have another chance for the enigmatic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover.

We then head further south to the cool temperate southern beech (Nothofagus) forest region of south-central Chile, home to over 20 species endemic to the Southern Cone of South America (and some restricted purely to Chile). Some of the most sought-after of these include the splendid Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker), the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet, the large, skulking Chestnut-throated Huet-huet (Chile’s least-known tapaculo), the equally impressive Black-throated Huet-huet and the curious Des Murs’s Wiretail (a tiny and enigmatic bird with just six elongated narrow tail feathers). Others include Chilean Tinamou, Spectacled Duck, Chilean Hawk, the rare Rufous-tailed Hawk, Burrowing Parrot, Austral Parakeet, Rufous-legged Owl, Austral Pygmy-Owl, Striped Woodpecker, Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, White-throated Treerunner, Chucao and Magellanic Tapaculos, and Patagonian Sierra Finch. White-throated Hawk is another good bird here.

Continuing still further south, we come to the northern end of the beautiful Chilean Fjords at Puerto Montt and the wind-swept Isla de Chiloé. The ferry crossing provides an opportunity to see the rare and only recently-described Pincoya Storm-Petrel. During our stay on the island we will visit a mixed colony of Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins, an area where Kelp Goose is usually plentiful along with the as-yet-undescribed ‘Chiloe Steamer Duck’.

During the optional extension, we will explore the far south of the country, including the windswept Patagonian steppes around Punta Arenas, spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, the veritable ‘Land of the Condor’ (where superlatives fail to describe the stalagmite-like granite massifs, the thundering waterfalls and huge glaciers), and the remote and dramatic island of Tierra del Fuego.

On the wild island of Tierra del Fuego, we will be seeking out the strange Magellanic Plover (the sole representative of its family), the endangered Ruddy-headed Goose, Flying and Fuegian Steamer-Ducks, Two-banded Plover, Dolphin Gull, Magellanic Horned Owl and, with luck, Snowy Sheathbill. We will also pay a visit to South America’s only King Penguin colony.

Finally, on the Patagonian steppes and coastline, and in extraordinary Torres del Paine, we will be looking for such great birds as Andean Condor (positively common here!), handsome Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Coscoroba Swan, Tawny-throated and Rufous-chested Dotterels, Least Seedsnipe, Short-billed and Common Miners, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Austral Canastero, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Chocolate-vented Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Patagonian Yellow Finch, Yellow-bridled and White-bridled Finches, and even the rare Austral Rail.

A huge attraction nowadays at Torres del Paine is the high chance of getting great views of Pumas, as they have become rather used to visitors to the area, following a reduction in hunting. We will have a skilled Puma tracker join us and we will have special access to a prime tract of terrain where Pumas are regularly sighted so that our group can maximise its chances for a great encounter or two!

There is also an optional extension to look for the near-endemic White-bellied Seedsnipe not far from Punta Arenas.

Birdquest has operated Chile birding tours since 1990.

White-bellied Seedsnipe Extension Option: If you would like to look for this special but very cryptic species we can arrange for you to stay an extra night in Punta Arenas at the end of the tour. The hike up a mountain to the seedsnipe area is for the fit and determined, but once in the habitat there is a high chance of a sighting and Yellow-bridled Finch is another speciality that is quite common in the area. The cost will depend on the number of participants. The excursion will be with the Birdquest leader if numbers permit, otherwise a local bird guide. Please inform us at the time of booking if you are interested in staying for an extra day.

Juan Fernández Islands Extension Option: We can arrange for you to visit this remote archipelago, some 670 kilometres (420 miles) off the Chilean coast, in order to see the endemic Juan Fernandez Firecrown and the jaunty Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant, species that very few birders have ever seen, plus the restricted-range Masatierra (or De Filippi’s) Petrel which nests only on islets off Robinson Crusoe (or Más a Tierra) Island and one other island. Juan Fernandez and Kermadec Petrels are also possible.

The itinerary shown in the Detailed Itinerary section is for guidance only. The regular flights to and from the islands are twice weekly (although charters are available at any time). Return flights to the islands are expensive. If four or more group members want to take this extension, we can arrange it as a guided extension, otherwise it will only be available as a self-guided option.

Be sure to mention at the time of completing the booking form that you are interested in taking this extension, and please also let us know if you are prepared to go unescorted if need be. Costs will depend on numbers, duration of stay and whether or not there is a Birdquest leader present.

Easter Island Extension Option: There can be few people who are unaware of the extraordinary stone statues of Easter Island, or Rapa Nui as it is known to its Polynesian inhabitants, one of the archaeological wonders of the world. Easter Island is governed by Chile and Santiago is the nearest airport, although the island lies some 2375 miles (3800 km) from the mainland!

The endemic avifauna was wiped out centuries ago when the inhabitants cut down all the forest, but there are some great seabirds, including Kermadec, Herald, Henderson and Phoenix Petrels (and if you are lucky Murphy’s Petrel), Christmas Shearwater, Grey and Brown Noddies, Sooty Tern, Red-tailed and White-tailed Tropicbirds, Great Frigatebird and Masked Booby.

If you would like to visit Easter Island, either before or after the tour, we can easily make the arrangements for you, including one or more boat trips to the seabird islets. You can self-drive to the archaeological sites or we can arrange guided tours. Please contact us for further information.

What makes the Birdquest Chile birding tour special? Firstly we have the most comprehensive Chile birding itinerary available, even including optional White-bellied Seedsnipe and Juan Fernández Islands extensions! Secondly, we have a pelagic off the port of Iquique in northern Chile. Iquique pelagics are usually more productive of special birds than those off Arica. In addition, the Birdquest group size limit is lower than for most tours to Chile, and in most cases significantly lower. Lastly, we include the spectacular Torres del Paine National Park, which some tours omit. It is not just the rare Austral Rail one goes to the park for, but the truly awesome mountain scenery and a high chance of getting good views of one or more wild Pumas! All in all our tour is truly unique.

Tour Category: Easy to moderate walking and comfortable accommodations.

Accommodation & Road Transport: The hotels are mostly of a good standard, occasionally medium standard. The guesthouse at Porvenir, where we spend one night, is a simple, family-run establishment. Road transport is by small coach or minibus and roads are good.

Walking: The walking effort during our Chile birding tour is easy to moderate.

Climate: In central and northern Chile, temperatures range from warm or fairly hot at lower altitudes, to cool and fairly cold at night and early in the morning at high altitude. Dry and sunny weather is the rule at this time of year. In southern Chile, temperatures are typically cool or quite cold, and it is frequently rainy (it can even snow occasionally in the far south).

Bird Photography: Opportunities during our Chile birding tour are good.


  • One of our classic tours, with the most comprehensive itinerary available
  • Some of the finest scenery on the planet
  • Many high-quality birds, including the iconic Diademed Sandpiper-Plover
  • Great photo opportunities, as most birds are quite confiding
  • Excellent food, good accommodation and easy walking
  • Two different pelagics producing many tubenoses, including several species of albatross
  • Chile is the land of the mega-tapaculos: Moustached Turca, the 2 huet-huets and Chucao Tapaculo are all relatively easy to see
  • Close views of fancy Inca Terns and Red-legged Cormorants in the north
  • The Critically Endangered endemic Chilean Woodstar in the Atacama desert
  • 'Oddball' endemics like Slender-billed Parakeet and Crag Chilia'
  • Dozens of shorebirds, including the unique Magellanic Plover and the stunning Rufous-chested Dotterel
  • Searching for the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker in the Nothofagus forests of central and southern Chile
  • Good chances of seeing the recently described Pincoya Storm Petrel on the ferry crossing to Chiloe island
  • Spending time at Torres del Paine National Park, one of the most scenic places in the world
  • Good chances of seeing Pumas in the Torres del Paine area, where we will make a special effort to find them
  • The vastness of the windswept plains, complete with Guanacos, in Tierra del Fuego
  • A visit to the only King Penguin colony in South America proper
  • Several species of cetaceans are possible, including the handsome Commerson´s Dolphin


  • Day 1: Morning tour start at Arica. Drive to Iquique.
  • Day 2: Pelagic boat trip off Iquique, then return to Arica.
  • Day 3: Arica area, then drive to Putre.
  • Day 4: Lauca National Park. Overnight at Putre.
  • Day 5: Lauca National Park, then return to Arica.
  • Day 6: Flight to Santiago. Drive to Quintero near Valparaiso.
  • Day 7: Pelagic boat trip off Valparaiso, then drive to Olmue.
  • Day 8: La Campana National Park, then drive to Santiago.
  • Day 9: Andes above Santiago.
  • Day 10: Drive to Vilches.
  • Day 11: Vilches area, then drive to Termas de Chillán.
  • Day 12: Termas de Chillán, then drive to Puyehue National Park.
  • Day 13: Puyehue National Park.
  • Day 14: Drive to Puerto Montt. Ferry to Islá de Chiloé.
  • Day 15: Islá de Chiloé, then drive/ferry to Puerto Montt airport for afternoon tour end.
  • Day 1: Late afternoon flight to Punta Arenas.
  • Day 2: Ferry to Tierra del Fuego. Overnight at Porvenir.
  • Day 3: Drive to northern Tierra del Fuego. Ferry to mainland. Drive to Torres del Paine area.
  • Day 4: Torres del Paine National Park and surrounding area.
  • Day 5: Torres del Paine area, then return to Punta Arenas.
  • Day 6: Morning tour end at Punta Arenas airport.

To see a larger map, click on the square-like ‘enlarge’ icon in the upper right of the map box.

To see (or hide) the ‘map legend’, click on the icon with an arrow in the upper left of the map box.

To change to a satellite view, which is great for seeing the physical terrain (and for seeing really fine details by repetitive use of the + button), click on the square ‘map view’ icon in the lower left corner of the ‘map legend’.


Birdquest Inclusions: Our tour prices include surface transportation, accommodations, meals and entrance fees.

We also include all tipping for local guides, drivers and accommodation/restaurant staff.

We also include these flights:


Puerto Montt-Punta Arenas

Deposit: 20% of the total tour price. Our office will let you know what deposit amount is due, in order to confirm your booking, following receipt of your online booking form.

TO BOOK THIS TOUR: Click here (you will need the tour dates)

2024: £5880, $7790, €7010, AUD11520. Arica/Puerto Montt.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £2520, $3350, €3010, AUD4950. Puerto Montt/Punta Arenas.
2025: provisional £6030, $7990, €7190, AUD11820. Arica/Puerto Montt.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £2600, $3450, €3100, AUD5100. Puerto Montt/Punta Arenas.

Single Supplement: 2024: £630, $840, €750, AUD1240.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £260, $350, €310, AUD510.
Single Supplement: 2025: £640, $860, €770, AUD1270.
Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego Extension: £270, $360, €320, AUD530.

The single supplement will not apply if you indicate on booking that you prefer to share a room and there is a room-mate of the same sex available.

This tour is priced in US Dollars. Amounts shown in other currencies are indicative.

Air Travel To & From The Tour: Our in-house IATA ticket agency will be pleased to arrange your air travel on request, or you may arrange this yourself if you prefer.


Chile: Day 1  Our Chile birding tour begins this morning at our hotel in Arica in northernmost Chile, from where we drive southwards to the coastal city of Iquique for an overnight stay.

(There is generally a cost-saving for incorporating your flights from Santiago to Arica and from Puerto Montt or Punta Arenas to Santiago into your international tickets. However, if you are arranging your international flights to and from the tour and you would find it more convenient for us to supply these internal tickets we will be pleased to do so.)

Today we will have the chance to visit some Tamarugo (Prosopis tamarugo) woodlands inland from the coast in search of the poorly-known Tamarugo Conebill, a species found only in northernmost Chile and southernmost Peru. We should also come across Cream-winged (or Puna) Cinclodes, as well as Turkey Vulture and Rufous-collared Sparrow

Chile: Day 2  The continental shelf lies not far offshore at Iquique, and today we will take a boat trip offshore in search of pelagic seabirds. As we are around 1150 miles (1850km) north of the Valparaiso area, we can expect a rather different combination of species and numbers. Pelagic birding off Iquique is generally far superior to that off Arica. Star attractions here are Buller’s Albatross and also both Elliot’s and the sought-after Markhams’s Storm Petrels, both of which we have a high chance of seeing. There are also slim chances for the much-wanted Hornby’s, Wedge-rumped and White-bellied Storm Petrels, as well as a better chance of encountering Juan Fernández Petrel than off the Valparaiso region, as the latter species tends to feed in warmer waters. We could also encounter Blue-footed Booby or Swallow-tailed Gull.

We should also encounter Humboldt Penguin, Black-browed and Buller’s Albatrosses, Southern Giant Petrel, White-chinned Petrel, Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters, Wilson’s Storm Petrel, Peruvian Diving Petrel, Peruvian Pelican, Peruvian Booby, Neotropic, Red-legged and Guanay Cormorants, Chilean Skua, Grey, Belcher’s (or Band-tailed) and Franklin’s Gulls, the stunning Inca Tern and Elegant Tern, as well as Ruddy Turnstone, Surfbird and Sanderling at the shoreline. All in all, this is going to be a fantastic experience.

After our pelagic adventure, we will drive northwards along the Pan-American Highway to Arica for an overnight stay.

Chile: Day 3  A bustling port and frontier town, Arica stands on the coast only a few miles from the Peruvian border. In what used to be Peruvian territory until the ‘War of the Pacific’, this is land-locked Bolivia’s gateway to the world with just a single train travelling daily to La Paz. Here, in the Atacama desert, one of the driest regions on earth, flow several rivers – the most well known being the Lluta and the Azapa. Although only small rivers carry melt-water down from the Andes, their well-cultivated flood plains form a rich oasis in this harsh environment.

Our most important target species will be the diminutive endemic Chilean Woodstar (one of Chile’s rarest and most threatened birds, whose world population is now believed to number no more than 200). Remarkably this species is known only from a tiny area in northernmost Chile, apart from a few historical records of vagrants from further north and south.

Other great birds in this interesting area include five restricted-range specialities shared only with coastal Peru: the uncommon Tschudi’s Nightjar, the sturdy Oasis Hummingbird, the entertaining, tail-wagging Peruvian Sheartail, the spectacular little Pied-crested Tit-Tyrant and the handsome Slender-billed Finch.

We should also encounter Black Vulture, American Kestrel, the impressive Peruvian Thick-knee, West Peruvian (or Pacific) Dove, Croaking Ground-Dove, Groove-billed Ani, Burrowing Owl, Andean Swift, White-crested Elaenia (the form here is sometimes split as Peruvian Elaenia), Vermilion Flycatcher, Bran-coloured Flycatcher (the local form is a strong candidate for a future split), Barn Swallow, Cinereous Conebill, Chestnut-throated Seedeater, Blue-black Grassquit, Shiny Cowbird and Peruvian Meadowlark.

Later we shall drive out of the Lluta Valley, climbing through the desert foothills into the relatively verdant high Andes. The first vegetation we encounter is striking stands of candelabra cacti which gradually give way to incredibly silent, nitrate-rich deserts and stony, scrub-filled gullies.

We will be making a couple of stops en route, primarily for the restricted-range Greyish Miner and also for Straight-billed Earthcreeper, before reaching Putre, our base for the next two nights and the gateway to Lauca National Park.

Chile: Day 4  Waking up in the sleepy Andean town of Putre at 3500m (11,500ft), where Aymara Indian town folk go about their daily business, we walk the cobbled streets through a maze of white-washed buildings and thatched roofs to a deep shrub-filled gulley. Here we hope to feast our eyes on a good variety of Andean slope birds, including Variable Hawk, Bare-faced and Black-winged Ground Doves, Andean Hillstar, Giant Hummingbird, Plain-breasted Earthcreeper, White-winged Cinclodes, Streaked Tit-Spinetail, Yellow-billed Tit-Tyrant, White-browed Chat-Tyrant, Chiguanco Thrush, Black-throated Flowerpiercer, Blue-and-yellow Tanager, Golden-billed Saltator, Black-hooded and Ash-breasted Sierra Finches, Greenish Yellow Finch, Band-tailed Seedeater, Hooded Siskin and perhaps Spot-winged Pigeon.

The major restricted-range specialities here are Canyon Canastero and in particular, White-throated Earthcreeper, which is found only in northernmost Chile and southern Peru, and Dark-winged Canastero, restricted to northernmost Chile, southern Peru and western Bolivia. Both of the latter species can only be seen on our Chile tour. We will also search for Peruvian Pygmy Owl, a species which was described as new to science as recently as 1991, although it is generally hard to find.

Because of the high altitudes involved, we will only make our first visit to Lauca National Park this afternoon in order to allow time for acclimatization. This afternoon’s birding will see us reach a maximum altitude of 4300m (14,100ft), while the following day we will be visiting South America’s highest lake, Lago Chungara, situated at 4500m (14,800ft).

Lauca National Park is a place of outstanding natural beauty. The towering snow-capped volcanoes of Pomerape and Parinacota soar to over 6300m (20,700ft) and reflect perfectly in the deep blue waters of Chungara and Cotocotani Lakes. A relatively short drive from Putre sees a rapid change of scenery as we penetrate above 4000m (13,100ft) and we find ourselves in the surreal world, the altiplano, which extends through parts of Chile and Argentina and much of Bolivia and southern and central Peru.

This harsh landscape of puna tussock grasslands, desert and shrubby steppe, dotted with numerous lakes, pools and cushion-plant bogs, is home to a large number of high Andean specialities, the most notable of which are Puna and Ornate Tinamous, Silvery Grebe of the high Andean race juninensis (a potential split), Giant Coot (which can be seen tending their enormous nest mounds), the very uncommon Puna Snipe and in particular the restricted-range White-throated Sierra Finch, a species that also occurs in southernmost Peru and western Bolivia but which is only ever seen on our Chile tours.

High Andean specialities of wider distribution are ‘Puna’ Rhea (which is sometimes split from Lesser), Puna Ibis, Andean Goose, Puna Teal, Andean Duck, Mountain Caracara, Andean Coot, Andean Lapwing, Puna Plover, Rufous-bellied Seedsnipe, Andean Avocet, Andean Gull, Andean Flicker, Puna Miner, Cordilleran Canastero, Puna, White-fronted and Rufous-naped Ground Tyrants, Andean Negrito and the impressive White-winged Diuca-Finch. If we are very fortunate we will come across a White-tailed Shrike-Tyrant. Diademed Sandpiper-Plover also occurs here, so we will have a first chance to observe this beautiful and extraordinary ‘shorebird’ during our explorations at Lauca.

When water levels are right, three flamingo species (Chilean, Andean and the rare Puna or James’s) can often be found at Lauca in good numbers, although in some years their numbers diminish when changing feeding conditions force many of them to move elsewhere.

Amongst the many more widespread birds we may well see here are Crested and Torrent Ducks, Speckled Teal, Aplomado Falcon, Greater Yellowlegs, Baird’s Sandpiper, Black-billed Shrike-Tyrant, Andean Swallow, Plumbeous Sierra Finch, Black and Yellow-rumped Siskins, and perhaps Bright-rumped Yellow Finch.

Southern (or Mountain) Viscachas (giant chinchillas) and large numbers of grazing Vicuña are a common sight and we should also encounter Guanacos at lower altitudes. There is even the possibility of seeing the threatened Peruvian Huemul (or Taruca), a rare deer of the pre-puna slopes.

Chile: Day 5  Our second day’s birding in Lauca National Park will be followed by a return to Arica for an overnight stay.

Chile: Day 6  An early morning flight from Arica will take us back to Santiago airport, from where we shall drive to Quintero on the Pacific coast near Valparaiso for an overnight stay.

We will stop en route at a large, sedge-lined lake in the quiet El Peral reserve. Here we shall find a good selection of waterbirds, likely including Great, Pied-billed and White-tufted Grebes, Black-crowned Night Heron, Great and Snowy Egrets, Black-necked Swan, Lake Duck, Yellow-billed Pintail, Red Shoveler, Chiloé (or Southern) Wigeon, Plumbeous Rail, Red-gartered, Red-fronted and White-winged Coots, and quite possibly Cinnamon Teal and Spot-flanked Gallinule. We will also be looking for the localized and uncommon Black-headed Duck, the world’s only exclusively parasitic duck species.

Either here or at another location we have a good chance of finding the uncommon Ticking Doradito, a species restricted to central Chile and west-central Argentina. The extensive sedge beds also hold Wren-like Rushbird and the smart Many-coloured Rush Tyrant, and with luck, we will see Stripe-backed Bittern.

Later, we will explore estuaries, bays and rocky stretches of coastline where we should encounter the endemic Chilean Seaside Cinclodes and some South American Sealions, along with shorebirds such as American and Blackish Oystercatchers, White-backed Stilt, Magellanic Snipe, Hudsonian Whimbrel, Greater and Lesser Yellowlegs, Brown-hooded Gull and Black Skimmer. Other species that are likely today include Western Cattle Egret, Chimango Caracara, Southern Lapwing, Picui Ground Dove, Eared Dove, Spectacled Tyrant, House Wren, Grassland Yellow Finch, Yellow-winged Blackbird and Long-tailed Meadowlark.

Chile: Day 7  Today we shall take a boat trip out of Valparaiso into the bird-rich waters of the Humboldt Current. This cold water Antarctic current, which surfaces off the Chilean coast, is rich in nutrients and supports large fish and squid populations. Attracted to these are great numbers of seabirds, some endemic to these waters, some wanderers from further afield.

We will see many of the species we first encountered off Iquique, but there will be some major differences. As we leave the harbour we should encounter Kelp Gull and South American Tern for the first time. With growing excitement, we shall scan amongst the hordes of Sooty and Pink-footed Shearwaters for some of the more regular pelagic visitors, which include Salvin’s and Northern Royal Albatrosses, and Westland Petrel.

With a bit of luck, we will come across several of the scarcer pelagic species, which include Southern Royal, Chatham and Grey-headed Albatrosses, Northern Giant Petrel, Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) and Juan Fernández Petrels, Buller’s Shearwater, Red-necked and Red (or Grey) Phalaropes, and Sabine’s Gull. If we are fortunate, we will also encounter one or more species of cetacean, with possibilities including Great Sperm Whale and Dusky Dolphin.

In the late afternoon, we will drive a short distance into the coastal cordillera and stay overnight at the pleasant colonial town of Olmue, near the entrance to La Campana National Park.

Chile: Day 8  The morning will be spent birding La Campana National Park, so named because of the bell-shaped mountain which dominates the park. This impressive park contains some of the northernmost Nothofagus (Southern Beech) forest and also thorny scrub and cacti, resembling the ‘chaparral’ country of California.

We will take advantage of the considerable bird activity at first light to search for two secretive endemic tapaculos. With some judicial use of playback, we should lure into view the large White-throated Tapaculo (whose loud, whooping song often reveals its presence) and the diminutive Dusky Tapaculo.

Other major target species include the impressive Moustached Turca (a large tapaculo endemic to central Chile) and Crag Chilia (a sleek, rock-loving, endemic furnariid of outcrops and escarpments), although there will be further opportunities to see both of these. The endemic Dusky-tailed Canastero gives itself away by its trilling song, while other specialities we should encounter today include Chilean Pigeon, Chilean Flicker, the inquisitive Thorn-tailed Rayadito, Chilean Elaenia, Fire-eyed Diucon, Austral Thrush, Chilean Mockingbird (a fairly widespread near-endemic), Chilean Swallow, Common Diuca-Finch, Austral Blackbird and Black-chinned Siskin.

More widespread birds in this area include Plain-mantled Tit-Spinetail, Tufted Tit-Tyrant and Blue-and-white Swallow, while the California Quails here are introduced.

When we finally tear ourselves away from the forest, we will drive back to the Santiago region for a two nights stay.

We will stop en route at some sedge-lined pools to search for the impressive South American Painted-snipe and have a second chance for Stripe-backed Bittern. We are also likely to see Harris’s Hawk, Chimango Caracara, Grass Wren and Correndera Pipit.

Chile: Day 9  The Santiago region is dominated by the magnificent Andes and on clear days there are inspiring views from every part of the region. Rising from the vineyards and farms of the central valley and soaring to 22,834ft (6960m) at the summit of Aconcagua (the highest mountain in the Americas), they are as accessible here as anywhere on the continent. Winding mountain roads with hairpin bends lead from one breathtaking view to another.

Today’s birding is strictly Andean, although there will be no need to ascend higher than about 8200ft (2500m). We will be covering a variety of montane habitats including bushy valleys, jagged rocky outcrops, scree slopes and boggy grasslands where we should encounter the remarkable Diademed Sandpiper-Plover (one of the world’s most attractive, yet least known, ‘shorebirds’), Grey-breasted Seedsnipe, White-sided Hillstar (often tricky to identify, but not known to be sympatric with Andean, which occurs at higher altitudes), Rufous-banded Miner (the local form is a candidate for a split), Grey-flanked Cinclodes, Sharp-billed Canastero, Austral Negrito, White-browed, Ochre-naped, Cinereous and the localized Black-fronted Ground Tyrants, Grey-hooded, Mourning and Band-tailed Sierra Finches, the localized Greater Yellow Finch and Yellow-rumped Siskin.

With a bit of luck, we will also find Mountain Parakeet, the restricted-range Creamy-rumped Miner and perhaps Great Shrike-Tyrant. Andean Condors often soar overhead and we will keep a close eye on sections of rushing meltwater rivers for Torrent Duck.

Chile: Day 10  This morning we will drive southwards to Vilches, in the Talca region, for an overnight stay, stopping en route to look for the secretive and endemic Chilean Tinamou.

In the afternoon we will explore the extensive Nothofagus forest in the Andean foothills, which here reaches its northern limits. In particular, we will be listening for the nasal scolding and squeaky toy voice of Chile’s least-known endemic tapaculo, the Chestnut-throated Huet-huet. Until recently this species was sometimes lumped with its close relative the Black-throated Huet-Huet, but DNA and vocalization studies have now shown that these are indeed separate species. This large skulker favours bamboo undergrowth in shady forest where it scrapes the forest floor with its outsized tarsus. With patience and some careful manoeuvring, we should have a good chance of seeing it.

We will also be looking for Rufous-tailed Plantcutter (the only cotingid found this far south) and more Nothofagus forest endemics such as Austral Parakeet (the world’s most southerly parrot species), the plump, near-endemic Chucao Tapaculo with its explosive voice, Magellanic Tapaculo, Striped Woodpecker, Dark-bellied Cinclodes, the tree-hugging, chisel-billed White-throated Treerunner and Patagonian Sierra Finch. After dusk, we will look for the striking Rufous-legged Owl (now a Patagonian endemic following the splitting off of Chaco Owl).

Chile: Day 11  After some final birding in the Vilches area, during which we will seek out the rare Spectacled Duck and the local race of the impressive Burrowing Parrot, we will head southwards to Termas de Chillán for an overnight stay.

Termas de Chillán is a small ski resort town in the Andes and our main target here is the restricted-range Patagonian Forest Earthcreeper, which has been split from Scale-throated and is restricted to part of the Chilean and Argentine Andes, although it is decidedly uncommon and not at all easy to find. We will also have a first opportunity to look for the much sought-after Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker), White-throated Hawk and some of the birds listed for Puyehue. We also have another opportunity to find Great Shrike-Tyrant in this area.

Chile: Day 12  We will spend some time around Termas de Chillán this morning and then continue southwards to Puyehue National Park for a two nights stay.

Chile: Day 13  The spectacular Puyehue National Park is dominated by the maximum diversity of Nothofagus species, under which a dense undergrowth of Chusquea bamboo conceals a multitude of exciting but secretive tapaculos. One of the most spectacular is the huge, near-endemic Black-throated Huet-huet, 10 inches (26 centimetres) of black and chestnut plumes, which has a scolding, onomatopoeic call and a bird which positively vibrates as it broadcasts its deeply resonant song. We will also be searching for the bamboo-dwelling Ochre-flanked Tapaculo, yet another monotypic genus and endemic to the Nothofagus forest. Having played hide-and-seek with these enigmatic birds we will spend the rest of our time exploring this atmospheric reserve. Here we aim to find some outstanding species including such near-endemic specialities as Chilean Hawk, Austral Pygmy Owl, Green-backed Firecrown, the much sought-after Magellanic Woodpecker (South America’s largest woodpecker), the tiny restless Des Murs’s Wiretail and the poorly-known Patagonian Tyrant. White-throated Hawk is also possible.

Higher up, providing weather and access conditions permit, we will search for Dark-faced Ground-Tyrant and the striking Yellow-bridled Finch near the crater rim of Volcán Raihuen,

Chile: Day 14  Today we will head further southwards to Puerto Montt. As we travel through the beautiful Chilean lake district we will enjoy (providing it is a clear day) the spectacular views of Volcan Osorno, one of the most perfect cones and most photographed volcanoes in the Southern Cone of South America. Flocks of Black-faced Ibises, with their far-carrying trumpeting calls, are still a familiar sight amidst the pleasant countryside, where the pace of life is refreshingly slow. This is a good area for the endemic Slender-billed Parakeet. This localized species has a specially adapted long maxilla for extracting Araucaria (monkey puzzle) seeds when in season, but it spends the rest of the year amongst crops and orchards.

Puerto Montt is a thriving port with Chile’s largest salmon farms forming the mainstay of the local economy. The picturesque Isla de Chiloé, where we will stay overnight, lies just a short distance away.

The ferry-crossing should provide good opportunities to observe Magellanic Diving Petrel, Imperial and Rock Cormorants, and probably some pelagic visitors, perhaps including one or two species we have missed previously. There is even a fair chance of encountering the recently-described Pincoya Storm Petrel, which is a cryptic species that was previously overlooked as Wilson’s Storm Petrel. It is still very poorly known, and its breeding grounds have not yet been discovered, but it is likely to be an endemic species that breeds in the Chilean Fjords rather than on oceanic islands.

During our visit to beautiful Chiloé Island, we will encounter ‘Chiloe Steamer-Duck’, an as-yet-undescribed endemic species, Kelp Goose and Magellanic Oystercatcher, a Patagonian endemic. This is probably the best place in Chile for the rare Rufous-tailed Hawk (but even so the chances of an encounter are slim) and we will also have another chance for the handsome Slender-billed Parakeet. We will also visit a mixed colony of Magellanic and Humboldt Penguins.

Chile: Day 15  After some final birding on Isla de Chiloé we will take the ferry back to Puerto Montt and continue to the Puerto Montt airport, where the main section of our Chile birding tour ends this afternoon.



Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 1  We will take a late afternoon flight from Puerto Montt to Punta Arenas in southernmost Chile for an overnight stay. This spectacular flight follows the Andes southwards over uninhabited terrain marked by volcanoes, hundreds of ice-encrusted peaks, glaciers and inaccessible lakes before the mountains give way to the flat steppes of Patagonia.

Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 2  This morning we will take the direct, roughly two-hours, ferry from Punta Arenas to Porvenir on the island of Tierra del Fuego, where we will stay overnight.

Once again the number of tubenoses during the crossing will testify to the richness of Chilean waters. Black-browed Albatrosses and Southern (or Common) Giant-Petrels are common, and we will have another chance for good looks at Magellanic Diving Petrels and Chilean Skuas. Sometimes Cape Petrels and Southern Fulmars can be seen, or even Peale’s Dolphins.

Tierra del Fuego is a place that Charles Darwin described in his book The Voyage of the Beagle as ‘a scene of savage magnificence’. It was named by Magellan after the fires the local Amerindians lit to warn others of his arrival. Porvenir is a small town where Croatian settlers were attracted by a gold rush in 1883.

At the top of the agenda in Tierra del Fuego will be the strange and highly sought-after Magellanic Plover, such an oddball that it has been placed in its own family and indeed may not even be a shorebird at all. Although inconspicuous, it can be remarkably tame. Additional target birds will include Fuegian (or Flightless) and Flying Steamer Ducks, Two-banded Plover, White-rumped Sandpiper and the handsome Dolphin Gull. We will also dedicate some time to tracking down the threatened Ruddy-headed Goose, now down to just 300 pairs in South America proper (and almost extinct on the mainland), although still thriving in the Falklands. Snowy (or Pale-faced) Sheathbill is also possible. Another important target is the splendid Magellanic Horned Owl.

We will also visit Bahía Inútil (Useless Bay) in order to enjoy the recently-established colony of King Penguins that now makes this area their home. Of all the penguins, Kings are probably the most impressive and there are generally between 50 and 150 present.

Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 3  We will head off early for the northern coast of Tierra del Fuego and make the short ferry crossing to the mainland. The ferry is often accompanied by Commerson’s Dolphins, a stunning black-and-white species endemic to Patagonia and the Falklands. Once ashore, we shall head for the Torres del Paine National Park region for a two nights stay.

During the journey, we will explore some wild Patagonian back roads. High on our list of targets will be such glorious specialities as Tawny-throated and Rufous-chested Dotterels, Band-tailed Earthcreeper, Chocolate-vented Tyrant and the uncommon White-bridled (or Black-throated) Finch. In addition, both Common and Short-billed Miners should be encountered.

Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 4  Exploring the world-famous Torres del Paine National Park is a wonderful experience. Thrusting abruptly over 6600ft (2000m) out of the Patagonian Plain, the Torres del Paine area is perhaps South America’s most dramatic mountain landscape. Surrounded by glaciers and stunted forests, these granite towers (torres being Spanish for towers, though the origin of Paine is still debated) dominate the majestic scenery of the region. Meltwater from the glaciers plunges over vertical cliffs, forming rushing rivers that feed a multitude of azure lakes surrounded by meadows full of foxgloves and daisies. From every angle, the awesome spires offer a different yet equally dramatic aspect and we shall surely have difficulty deciding when to call a halt to the scenic photography!

These days the Pumas (or Mountain Lions) in the Torres del Paine area have become quite habituated to humans and we have a very good chance of one or more sightings during our visit. This is not just because their habits in the area are starting to become better known, but also because they have become much less fearful of humans following the cessation of hunting in the vicinity of the park. We will have a skilled Puma tracker join us and we will have special access to a prime tract of Puma habitat where sightings are frequent in order to maximise our chances for sightings!

Guanacos, a wild relative of the Llama, are a common sight and Argentine Grey Foxes are regularly seen.

This is Andean Condor country par excellence and one of the few places where these spectacular birds remain truly common. Often to be found on the ground in the early morning, when the up-draughts start we shall likely see them in all their splendour as they unfurl their mighty wings, take to the air and rapidly gain height above our heads.

The major avian attraction here is the very rare and poorly-known Austral Rail. A Birdquest tour group discovered it in the park in 2010, and we shall certainly make an effort to see this fairly elusive speciality which was feared extinct for almost 50 years. Hearing one is the easy part, but with persistence, we have a good chance of seeing one.

Other interesting birds we shall look for both inside and outside the park include Lesser Rhea (here of the form known as ‘Darwin’s Rhea’), Silvery Grebe, Coscoroba Swan, elegant Upland and Ashy-headed Geese, Bronze-winged (or Spectacled) Duck, Cinereous Harrier, Black-chested Buzzard-Eagle, Southern Crested Caracara, White-throated Caracara (scarce), Peregrine, Wilson’s Phalarope, Least Seedsnipe, Austral Canastero, Cinnamon-bellied Ground Tyrant, Patagonian Mockingbird, Patagonian Yellow Finch and the scarce Yellow-bridled Finch. We have another good opportunity here to locate the impressive Magellanic Woodpecker, which occurs at a low density in these southern forests.

Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 5  After a final day enjoying the magnificent Patagonian wilderness we will return to Punta Arenas for an overnight stay.

Chile (Patagonia & Tierra del Fuego): Day 6  Our tour ends this morning at Punta Arenas airport.

[Note: If you want to stay on an extra night at Punta Arenas and look for the near-endemic White-bellied Seedsnipe, please read the relevant section on the tour Overview page and let us know you want to do this at the time of booking.]


Juan Fernández: Day 1 From Santiago we will take a flight to Isla Robinson Crusoe, as it is now known, in the remote Juan Fernández archipelago for a three nights stay. The island was formerly called Más a Tierra, meaning ‘nearer to land’, to differentiate it from Más Afuera island, meaning ‘further out’ (to sea). The island was renamed in honour of the famous character in the novel by Daniel Defoe, who was inspired by Alexander Selkirk, who was voluntarily marooned on the island in the early 18th century. After the two-and-a-half-hour flight from Santiago, we transfer from the airstrip by motorboat to the island’s only settlement, San Juan Bautista.

The journey provides the first opportunity to see Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) Petrel, which only breeds in Juan Fernández on two uninhabited offshore islands. Once ashore it is just a short distance to our pleasant family-run guesthouse.

Juan Fernández: Days 2-3  Robinson Crusoe lies some 670km (416 miles) off the coast of central Chile and is the only permanently inhabited island in the group. During our stay on this unforgettable island, lush with tree ferns, wind-weathered sandalwoods and giant Gunnera (rhubarb-like plants), we will be able to admire the large and magnificent Juan Fernandez Firecrown and the jaunty Juan Fernandez Tit-Tyrant. Both of these endemics are threatened and, by virtue of their location, some of the world’s most seldom-seen birds. Indeed the firecrown is now thought to be endangered owing to the actions of feral cats and rats.

We will also travel offshore by boat in order to get great views of Masatierra (or Defilippe’s) Petrel. We should also see Kermadec Petrels returning to their nest sites on the steep cliffs and the endemic Juan Fernández Fur Seal. There is a fairly good chance for Juan Fernandez Petrel and even a slim chance of Stejneger’s Petrel.

Juan Fernández: Day 4  After some final birding at Robinson Crusoe we will fly back to Santiago.


by Eustace Barnes

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Other 'Southern Cone' of South America birding tours by Birdquest include: